At Inclusive Journalism Cymru it’s important to us that we can provide members with regular access to practical support, delivered by industry professionals who themselves represent diverse demographics and champion people from marginalised backgrounds and identities.
Enter our Longform Writing Masterclass, a free online event which was open to anyone interested in learning more about how to supercharge their non-fiction writing.
Held on 15th March, almost 100 people signed up to learn about developing and pitching ideas, research and general writing tips. We were joined by two fantastic guests: Suyin Haynes, former Head of Editorial at gal-dem, an award-winning publication dedicated to sharing the perspective of people of colour from marginalised genders, and Charlotte Williams OBE, a Welsh-Guyanese writer, academic and cultural critic most well known in Wales for her award-winning memoir Sugar and Slate. Both of them were able to offer some really valuable advice – we hope that attendees felt encouraged to keep working on their pieces and share their perspectives with confidence and finesse.
As our Co-Director Siriol mentioned, there’s a Volvo advert that plays before the much-loved Succession which says, “Great stories start with feeling safe”, which is exactly what we aim to achieve.
For those who couldn’t make it (and those who might like a refresher) we’ve put together 8 key takeaways from the session to help you get the most from your writing.
"Look at what is being said, but most importantly, what is not! "
1. Identify your passion
Suyin recommended writing down three stories that you find interesting on the news or on social media. Over time you might start to see that these stories share a similar thread – this way you can start to identify your main passions and interests, a space from which to develop your voice. She reminded us to look at what is being said, but most importantly, what is not!
2. Pay homage
As Charlotte Williams says, we are rarely the first to do anything, so do your research and pay homage to what has come before. Use other people’s work as a foundation and find how you can add value to the conversation using your own unique perspective.
3. Be concise
Suyin finds it useful to write a nut graf which essentially captures the whole story in one paragraph. If you struggle to do this, then you need to dig deeper, as there is still too much going on and you need to dissect it further.
4. Pace yourself
Both our guests highlighted how your story needs to maintain pace and structure. Think of your piece as a series of mini stories and how they blend together to form a cohesive whole.
5. Inhabit the reader
Too many ideas? Our guests pointed out how important it is to put yourself into the reader’s position. Who are you writing for? Would they want a succinct narrative which covers a few topics, but well and in-depth? If so, then review and edit what is important and relevant to THEM, not YOU.
6. Pick and choose
Charlotte talked very powerfully about how, as writers we have responsibility for what we offer, as well as what is asked of us. It is important to protect ourselves. Just because the expectation is to write about something that others perceive to be your truth, your truth is your own and how you choose to share that is your decision.
7. Stick to the headline
Suyin finds it a useful discipline to have a headline and a two-line premise which you can keep coming back to. If you move down the page, write it on a post-it note and stick it to your screen so if you feel you are losing your way, it can remind you what is important and what your story is trying to achieve.
8. Just do it
And last but not least, everyone agreed it’s important to just start writing. Do not be held back by the thought of it. Put pen to paper, or fingers tips to keyboard or however you record your writing. Just get it down. See what ideas emerge, and from there you can build your narrative.
As an extra special treat, here’s some further reading supplied by the lovely Suyin Haynes:
- gal-dem’s piece featuring Charlotte, on changes to the Welsh curriculum
- An essay by gal-dem’s former First Person editor Katie about identity in non-fiction essay writing
- This Poynter piece on the nut graf, though a bit old school, can be quite helpful when thinking about the core of a story
- Recommended longform writers: Gary Younge (who has a new book out), E. Alex Jung and Andrea Long Chu
We hope that this event is the first of many and, judging by the warm response, we know there’s an appetite out there. As always, keep an eye out in our newsletter and our socials for further updates. Till next time – happy writing!